I listened to the audiobook of this, and the narrator did an amazing job; he just glides smoothly through all the ridiculously long and difficult names and I would not manage to be that smooth.
I was occasionally confused about which minor character was which (partly because I listened to it over several weeks because I had little time to devote to it each day), but overall I found the story compelling and fascinating.
I love how Addison thrusts us into the unknown world of the Imperial Court with a language and set of societal rules that are complicated and unfamiliar and just leaves us to figure it out — much as she dumps Maia into the same situation. I felt an intense kinship with Maia because of that, and because of his background and temperament, and it was immensely satisfying to watch him coming into his own as emperor and slowly making friends and finding his place.
All of the conflict is Maia’s internal struggle and his determination to be a better person and emperor than his father was – which of course pits him against those members of court who are still loyal to his father. There was no great outside conflict as one generally expects in a fantasy novel, and I love it for that, and for the way the entire novel is infused with Maia’s hope and determination to be good.
This second re-listen I’ve found I love it just as much, and am just as awed by the narrator’s smoothness and ability to wrangle complex names. I see more of Maia’s fight to keep himself from acts of pettiness against his cousin Setharis (who quite frankly deserves all of Maia’s pettiness and more after what he put Maia through over the course of his childhood) because he is so determined to be good. That goodness is Maia’s underlying character trait and despite what people in the court keep telling him, it serves him well.
*Thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan Audio for providing an audiobook arc to review.